Kansas Board of Education to Increase Efforts in Indigenous Education Outreach

TOPEKA — The Kansas State Board of Education voted on Tuesday to enhance indigenous education outreach from K-12 to the college level, amidst discussions encompassing mascots and political facets.

By a 9-1 decision, members endorsed a memorandum to establish the Kansas Advisory Council for Indigenous Education, solidifying a partnership between the state board, regents, and advisory council. The Kansas Board of Regents signed the agreement on March 21.

“We have the chance to embrace meaningful educational opportunities, fostering conversations, and enhancing mutual understanding. This is crucial,” emphasized board member Jim Porter.

The Kansas Advisory Council for Indigenous Education was established as a temporary committee to fortify ties with the state’s four Native nations and enhance educational outcomes for indigenous children and youths. Board member Dennis Hershberger stressed the importance of teaching factual history without political biases.

“I urge promoting factual historical education, and if that’s the aim, then I commend the effort,” Hershberger remarked. “… Every individual is created equal, and we must view history through that lens, considering the virtue and value of each individual. It’s vital that we perceive history this way.”

This initiative comes following remarks made by the Kansas commissioner of education, Randy Watson, during a virtual education conference in 2022.

“I had relatives from California who were scared of tornadoes. They visited us in the summer and were worried about tornadoes. I reassured them but cautioned them about the possibility of Indians raiding the town at any moment,” Watson stated.

Watson issued an apology for these remarks and was suspended without pay for one month.

During the discussion at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, members inquired about the council’s political implications. Board member Danny Zeck, the sole dissenter, posed queries to council member Alex Red Corn, a citizen of the Osage Nation and an assistant professor at Kansas State University, regarding mascot recommendations.

“Is this the same group advocating for the removal of all mascots?” questioned Zeck.

In 2022, the council urged the BOE  to prioritize persuading local school authorities to abandon culturally offensive mascots.

More than 20 Kansas schools still embrace American Indian themed mascots, eliciting opposition from many tribes who view such depictions as damaging to the perception of indigenous people, promoting stereotypes depicting American Indians as “exotic, warlike individuals stuck in the past,” as outlined in a council memorandum.

Red Corn highlighted the group’s current focus on student data analysis and teacher certification efforts.

“Mascots may garner significant attention, but they are not the primary focus of our current work. We are pivoting towards fostering collaborative educational systems that educate about the state’s history and its impact on Kansas today,” Red Corn elucidated.

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